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About 100 New Jersey landowners anxiously await their fate: Will The PennEast Pipeline Project force itself through their property, without their consent? These property owners are battling in three parallel, complicated federal court cases, the outcomes of which will affect not only those landowners but also many more.
A brief bit of history: North and west of Philadelphia, about 40 Pennsylvania counties sit on the Marcellus Shale (named after the New York town of Marcellus). By some estimates, the Marcellus Shale may produce more than 400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—enough to supply U.S. natural gas needs for 20 years.
Until the last two decades, few paid attention to the Marcellus Shale as a viable natural gas source, because of its depth (more than two miles in some spots) and the difficulty and expense of extracting the gas. With the advent of new technologies, however, gas companies found extracting the gas more feasible and cost-effective, which launched a flurry of activity. Some describe the developments as a “feeding frenzy” and twenty-first century gold rush (which remains to be seen).
The PennEast Pipeline Project will move natural gas 115 miles from Dallas in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, to Pennington, in Mercer County, New Jersey.
Eminent domain is the government power to take private property for public use. The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment guarantees that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Condemnation is the formal process by which governments exercise their eminent domain rights.
For more than a century, most people believed that public use meant schools, hospitals, parks, ball fields, open space preservation, libraries, roadway projects, etc. Many are surprised that private, for-profit companies can use the threat of condemnation as a sword to acquire valuable land rights (such as easements). It’s a knotty entanglement of government with businesses. For example, while PennEast is a private company, utilities (such as natural gas production and distribution) serve the public good. And courts increasingly expand the types of land development for which the government and its partners in the private sector can use eminent domain.
That is the heart of the PennEast Pipeline litigation. PennEast made formal offers to landowners to run its pipeline through their properties. If a landowner accepts PennEast’s offer, a written easement agreement will contain the compensation and PennEast’s broad rights. But for landowners who balk, PennEast threatens to forcibly take part of their properties through condemnation—where landowners risk lengthy, expensive valuation and legal hurdles, with the uncertainty of receiving more or less money than PennEast originally offered.
The agreements that allow someone to buy or use all or part of your property for a specific use differ significantly from others you’ve seen (for example, an apartment or office lease, or a residential agreement of sale). Whether called a license, easement agreement, or something else, no standard preprinted form exists, and you know that any agreement is heavily tilted in the developer’s favor.
This presents many unique issues. Here are a few that savvy legal condemnation counsel will address:
These and many other complex, myriad questions in eminent domain cases are fraught with peril. Most landowners need a stellar eminent domain lawyer to navigate them.
If you are a landowner facing condemnation or if someone wants to buy your land rights, don’t delay. The law may entitle you to substantially more compensation for your financial damages. Experienced eminent domain lawyers can often solve these cases with skilled negotiation.
Trust the experienced, eminent domain lawyers at Sever Storey. We serve clients throughout the nation. Call us right away at (888) 318-3761, or contact us confidentially. Our seasoned, national network of condemnation lawyers will protect you, preserve your rights, and ensure your fair treatment. Let us help you.
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